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Police seeking to question protesters filmed feuding with soldier, cop

Pair accused of disrespecting civil servants — a criminal offense — and not following instructions during protest outside Knesset; troops pulled from Jerusalem after incident

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A protester argues with a soldier at a roadblock outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 29, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A protester argues with a soldier at a roadblock outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 29, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Police on Thursday summoned two protesters for questioning after they filmed themselves telling a soldier and a police office they “should be ashamed” for using military troops to operate a roadblock meant to break up a drive-by anti-government protest earlier this week.

Insulting a civil servant is a criminal offense under Israeli law.

The soldier was one of some 2,000 troops on loan to the police to assist in enforcement of the national lockdown. The soldiers were not empowered to make arrests or otherwise act as police, but were instead meant to bulk up the short-staffed police force.

Defense officials have since indicated that soldiers will no longer be deployed near sensitive protest zones.

In the Hebrew video, the female protesters can be seen driving up to the roadblock outside the Knesset. Their car was one of many taking part in a vehicular demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which a convoy of cars drove past the parliament, honking their horns in protest.

At first, the women can be seen telling the soldier that he “should be ashamed” to operate a counter-protest roadblock and that he “shouldn’t take part in this.”

When the soldier said he “didn’t want to argue,” one of the women responded, “you don’t want to argue with me, but I want to argue with you. I will shame you. You are an IDF soldier!”

The soldier then waved them along and walked away. After he had gone, the other woman in the car is then heard saying to her friend, “I don’t want to move when he tells me what to do. What gall he had!”

She then mutters under her breath, “what whores…” though it was not clear to whom this was directed.

The women then drove up to the police officer running the roadblock and told her that she too “should be ashamed” of herself for using soldiers in this way.

“My children are in the army. I’m ashamed of what you are doing with our soldiers,” one of the women said.

The other turns back to the soldier. “They are part of the Bibi Police, you are supposed to be an IDF soldier,” she said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

The one woman’s comments of “What gall! What whores,” which were muttered under her breath when neither the soldier nor the police officer were present, appeared to be the only direct insults in the two-minute video.

Nonetheless, police announced on Thursday morning that they were opening an investigation into the two women’s actions and called them in for questioning.

“The Israel Police has opened an investigation in light of a video that was published on social media in which two women insult a soldier and police officer at a police roadblock in Jerusalem and don’t listen to their instructions,” police said.

Disparaging a public worker in the course of their work is a crime in Israel, punishable with up to six months in prison, though in most cases the penalty is a fine. From 2012 to 2014, over 4,000 indictments for this offense were filed by state prosecutors, according to the most recent officially released figures.

Though the two demonstrators’ comments against the soldier and officer on Tuesday were widely denounced by defense officials, shortly after the incident the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Minister Benny Gantz effectively acknowledged that they agreed with their key argument, that military troops should not be part of such counter-protest efforts.

Gantz referred to the deployment there as a “mistake” and said it wouldn’t be repeated. Top officers from the IDF and Israel Police later met on Tuesday and agreed that soldiers ought to be kept out of protest areas, and all troops were removed from the sensitive Jerusalem area, where demonstrations were more likely.

“Positioning IDF soldiers close to protest centers is a mistake that has already been taken care of and will not be repeated,” Gantz said in a statement on Tuesday.

Demonstrations against Netanyahu over his alleged corruption and the government’s handling of the virus outbreak have become a regular occurrence in recent months, with rallies held several times a week outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, and major events every Saturday night.

Police have consistently complained about suffering insults at the hands of protesters as tensions between the groups have ramped up.

The protests are expected to be significantly curtailed after ministers voted late Wednesday to forbid travel of over one kilometer to reach a demonstration, and to restrict protest gatherings to a maximum of 20 participants per group.

Many civil society organizations have denounced these regulations as an unwarranted violation of citizens’ rights.

Netanyahu and others have condemned the mass gatherings as infection incubators.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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